The sermon begins with a personal reflection. You may wish to substitute a relative or question.
[The author writes: When I was growing up, one of my favorite pastime activities was to pester my younger brother, Kevin with irritating questions. One of my favorite questions to him was "Who do you like better, you or me?" I knew that this question drove him nuts. He wanted to say, "Me, I like me better," but they had been in the Church for too long to be able to say that with a totally clear conscience.
As a teenager, my brother worked as a disc jockey, and in those days I discovered another question to torment him with. "What's single most important word in the world?" I would ask. Sometimes Kevin would try out various answers, like "communication" or "air-play," but usually he would either get agitated or just ignore me.
We earth-creatures like to get hung up on questions like, "What's the most important?" or "Where's the biggest such-and-such?" or "Who's the greatest?" And we like to try to trip up other people with questions like "Who was the winningest pitcher in the American league in 1975?" or "Who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?"]
In today's lesson from Matthew, a Pharisee attempts to try to trip Jesus up with a similar kind of question: "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Jesus comes off much better than [you may wish to substitute a relative or question] my brother ever did. He says, first of all, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Jesus is here quoting the Shemah, the scripture which was to be recited daily by all Jewish people in Jesus' day. We know it from the book of Deuteronomy: " Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength."
Hear, O, Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. God is One, Whole, Complete, All-encompassing. So unified and unifying that God calls for a response in love from the whole person, the heart, the soul, the mind, the strength. God calls every part of ourselves to love him.
Jesus goes on to offer the Pharisee a second, similar commandment. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," a quote from the book Leviticus. "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." I've sometimes wondered how anyone could command a person to love another person. Isn't that like commanding a person to love lima beans? Loving our neighbor is not something that comes naturally for us.
It certainly didn't come naturally to D.H. Lawrence. He once wrote a poem called "Love my Neighbour." It goes like this....
- I love my neighbour
are these things my neighbours
these two-legged things that walk and talk
and eat and laugh, and even seem to smile
seem to smile, ye gods!
Am I told that these things are my neighbours?
All I can say then is Nay! Nay! Nay! Nay! Nay!
There is a sense of resistance to this commandment from Mr. Lawrence. Love is not our natural inclination. In fact, it's something like a foreign language. We struggle with it, and even then we may not love very well. Garrison Keillor writes, "I got into the Episcopal Church one summer living in Copenhagen when I suddenly became lonely for English. I had gotten good enough in Danish to say things like `Yes, thank you, I have it well to be the weather and we well shall enjoy to possess the summer here. It is delightful to me for speaking on Danish and find your wife extremely amusing."
Our first attempts at loving are just as awkward and clumsy. But it happens. We know it happens. We learn to love because God first loved us. We have a Teacher, just as we can learn a foreign language with the help of a teacher.
God loves us. Sometimes we know this directly. More often we know this because other people, loved by God, show us love. And, in so doing, they show us how to love. So it is that Jesus can command us to love our neighbors. Because he first loved us. He loved "us....to death." "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end..." What greater love can a man or woman have than to lay down their life?
Once, when complaining to a friend about how housemates were carrying on, the friend said, "Well, you just got to love `em." These are wise words! And they work with everybody! Sure, they work with your family --wives, husbands, parents, kids. You just got to love `em. But they also work with other people. People you know in church just for instance. People you work with. People you run with. You just got to love `em.
And there's a lot of release in those words. You don't have to be like them or act like them. You don't have to understand them. You don't even have to like them. They surely don't have to like you.
You just got to love `em. If you've been loved, then you can do that. Just remember how it was when someone loved you.
If you know you are loved, then what else matters? What else matters? " On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."